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Surgery for Lumbar Herniated Disc

Back Pain Treatment for Spinal Herniated Disc


Updated January 27, 2013

If you have a herniated disc, your symptoms may improve without surgery. But by how much? And by when? It’s possible to wait it out, and let nature takes its course by shrinking your disc and resorbing the herniated material. This process takes about a year and may require a lot of work on your part. Compare that to a successful back surgery, which may relieve your pain soon after the procedure is done.

If symptoms continue to interfere with your daily activities after you’ve tried conservative care for 6 weeks, your doctor may suggest surgery.

Common Back Surgeries for Lumbar Disc Herniation

Discectomy involves removing fragments of the disc that press on and irritate the spinal nerve root. Discectomy is the most common surgery performed for a low back disc herniation. It has about an 80% to 90% success rate for relieving radicular symptoms such as sciatica, numbness, weakness and/or pain down one leg.

Discectomies may be full operations (called “open discectomies”) or they may be minimally invasive procedures. Due to technological advances in medical/surgical techniques, devices and equipment, the trend in surgery is toward the minimally invasive. Two types of minimally invasive procedures are the microdiscectomy and percutaneous arthroscopic discectomy.

If you are deciding which kind of discectomy to have, consider the skill set of your potential surgeon. Some doctors may insist on performing an open discectomy because they haven’t been thoroughly training in the minimally invasive types. Others may specialize in one type of procedure over the other. Check your doctor’s competencies and compare them with those of other surgeons before deciding who will perform the procedure.

Spinal fusion involves removing the disc and fusing the adjacent bones together. If you have instability in your spine or you’ve already had one or more discectomies, you may need a spinal fusion. Spinal fusion may require that hardware, such as plates and screws, be installed. It may also involve a bone graft. Doctors only rarely perform spinal fusions with microdiscectomies.

Surgery for herniated lumbar disc generally relieves leg pain with great success. It is less effective for relieving back pain, though. (Exercise often is the best way to manage back pain.) Along with leg pain relief, surgery may help stop your leg from getting weaker.

Speak with your doctor about the appropriateness of surgery for your herniated disc if you are unsure which treatment is right for you.


Herniated Intervertebral Disk. MD Consult. Accessed Aug 2010.

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